By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Drake Davis always imagined how LSU fans would cheer when he caught his first touchdown pass in Tiger Stadium, a dream that came true in the first quarter of Saturday night’s 45-10 win over Chattanooga.
He didn’t imagine they’d cheer before he caught the touchdown, though.
“In my head, I was thinking, ‘Wow, they cheered before I even caught the ball,'” said Davis, who hauled in a 36-yard dime from Danny Etling to open the scoring Saturday. “‘I gotta catch it now.’”
Davis did his part, securing the pass and setting the tone on a night in which the deep ball was LSU’s favorite to throw. Etling finished 8-of-14 passing for 227 yards and the score, connecting on five passes of 25 yards or more to four different receivers. His 16.2 yards per passing attempt were a career high, and his 216.9 passer rating was the second best in any game of his career (233.8 vs. Southern Miss in 2016).
“That was what they were giving us,” Etling said of the deep ball. “They were coming up, stopping the run really well. That’s a credit to them. So we decided to open it up a little bit. Our guys were getting open and making plays.”
First up was Davis, who scooted down the middle of the Chattanooga defense virtually unmarked. Etling dropped the ball into his hands just in front of the uprights, and Davis cruised through having secured the first touchdown grab of his career.
“Coach Canada did a really good job of setting them up, making them think it was going to be a run,” Davis said. “What I did was the easiest part on the field, catching the ball. Scheming and throwing the ball to get me open, that was the hardest part, so I thank Coach Canada and I thank Danny.”
Etling’s next deep ball appeared to be less a matter of scheme and more a matter of size. On the first play of the ensuing next series, he tossed one up to 6-foot-6 sophomore Stephen Sullivan, who elevated above two Moc defenders and high-pointed a post route for a 46-yard grab, his first career reception. The Tigers would punch in their second score three plays later, a one-yard Derrius Guice rushing score.
“They’re some guys we’ve been really hoping to come along and pushing to come along,” Etling said of Davis and Sullivan. “They had a great night tonight. Phony (Sullivan) going up and getting that post route, that’s what we’ve been looking for, and that’s how we expect him to play.”
After one more long completion to a first-time receiver – Etling found JaCoby Stevens on the left sideline for a 27-yard gain on the first play of the third offensive series, Stevens’ inaugural reception – LSU’s senior quarterback went back to a familiar target. Twice he dialed D.J. Chark’s number, and twice the two hooked up for gains of 46 and 48 yards, respectively. Chark would also return two punts for scores, though one was called abck for a penalty.
“There will be times when they put too many guys in the box and we can’t run the football,” said head coach Ed Orgeron. “Danny was tremendous on the shots tonight. I thought Matt Canada did a tremendous job of calling the game tonight.”
It’s a new facet of the Tiger offense in Canada’s first season. Last season, LSU completed just eight passes of 40+ yards in 12 games. Through five games in 2017, they’ve completed five such passes. Part of it, says Etling, is a clean bill of health, after the quarterback’s offseason back procedure. In fact, he said he left a little off a couple throws, in order to give his receivers a chance to make the play.
“Honestly, I felt like I under threw a couple, and I had a lot more left I could’ve put on it,” he said. “I’ll challenge myself to overthrow some guys this week in practice. They were moving fast, and I feel like I can really put it out there. We’ll see if we can get even bigger plays out of them.”